Why Brands Need to Keep It Simple (Seriously)

Brand Strategy
Keep It Simple

But they still do it, shoving the proverbial five pounds in the four pound bag. And so I must say, we’re in the midst of a true branding crisis—a crisis of wordiness, of TMI and unabashed oversharing. We’re in a Crisis of Content.

This is your brain in overload
The crisis is real, and it doesn’t sit well with anyone. It’s how we’re hardwired. Whether it’s too much noise in advertising, brand messaging or life, our brains aren’t equipped to handle all the chaos. When something looks or feels cluttered, the various stimuli we’re staring down compete “for neural representation,” explains a recent Princeton University study. The end result? We wind up “mutually suppressing their evoked activity throughout visual cortex, providing a neural correlate for the limited processing capacity of the visual system.”

The non-scientist explanation? Your brand looks chaotic, and your customers lose focus—fast. There’s too much happening, and it’s annoying, draining and non-productive. And that’s EXACTLY how your customer will view your brand.

Think simple —think the simplicity rule
Enter the Simplicity Rule. It’s one of the most important branding rules we have. While so many entrepreneurs, business leaders and marketers think more is more, it’s actually the opposite. Simplifying and streamlining are what drives success.

But simplicity is something that businesses struggle with a lot. I blame competing agendas inside companies more often than not. Marty Neumeier said it best in his book The Brand Gap. Here, he explains the phenomenon known as Featuritis: “It afflicts everyone from the CEO to the programmer. The tendency to add features, articles, graphics, buttons, animations, links, bells and whistles comes naturally to people. The ability to subtract features is the rare gift of the true communicator.”

We’re all just trying to put our stamp on every piece of communication we touch. We all want to say something, and the leaders of the pack just want to oblige—to satisfy everyone and every voice. Put it all together and it’s no wonder a brand becomes so all over the place. You’ve got a million people inside the company lifting their legs on every piece of creative.

The solution (drumroll, please…)
Customer engagement needs to be a simple, multi-prong experience to be effective. The approach? The 3-30-3 Rule.

3: Studies show you have about 3 seconds to get someone’s attention
30: Once you have their attention, they’ll spend 30 seconds digging around and learning more about your product or service
3: Nailed it? Now you’ve earned three more minutes with the customer—and that’s when they make a decision if they like you or not.

Cram every word into every message and, guess what? You’ve blown the first piece of 3-30-3—you’ve no doubt made those first three seconds so overwhelming that those customers won’t want to spend another 30 seconds getting to know you. Because they know—or think they know—enough. And what they know is that yours is a noisy, mentally exhausting experience. And who wants that?

Applying the simplicity rule
Your goal? Keep it simple and keep it sharp. Apple is the master. Their headlines are quick and pithy, but you always know exactly who they are and what they stand for. Their designs are clean, and white space is embraced. It’s minimalism, really, with a sense of simplicity that’s so compelling and dynamic that you’re completely seduced—you WANT to get to the 30 seconds, then the three minutes.

It’s always a major win
The good news? Theirs is a formula that can be replicated for any brand and any platform. The secret? Focus on the headline. People can’t read much more than that in three seconds. Here’s my rule of thumb:

Cap it at five (words…)

Four is even better

Three is great

Two rocks

One = just enough

In the Apple example, do you need more than “Apple?” Nope. Or more than “This is 7?” Not at all. Even the art direction is straightforward. The photography is simple and heroic—as simple and meaningful as the copy. But, still, you get it, you want it, and you click through. And that’s success—plain and SIMPLE.

When you can communicate
That’s not to say you can never tout the benefits of your product or service—of course you can, and of course you should. But do yourself a favor: keep it simple in the beginning. That’s the only way you’ll make the most of those three seconds—and the 30 seconds and the three minutes—that follow.

After a customer crosses the three-minute mark, they’re yours—at least for now. Knock yourself out with all the benefits, perks, offers and information you think they need to make a decision. Granted, you shouldn’t let it all go and be a total disaster. You still want your info to be clear, straightforward and easy to read. Bullets, bold copy and subheads help—people want to skim at the end of the day. Post-three minutes and 33 seconds you’ve got a little more wiggle room and can loosen up on the brevity, but not a minute before.

They’ve got enough complexity in their lives
At the end of the day, customers are being smacked in the face with information, intel and flat out noise constantly. Your goal? To make their complex lives a little easier by keeping your content and messaging simple.

Applying the Simplicity Rule is what you should have been doing all along. If you haven’t, well, it’s time for a gut-check. Take an honest look at what you’re pushing out there and ask yourself if you’re making the most of those three seconds. What about the next 30? Would a customer feel intrigued or would they feel like they’re being shouted at? Would they feel invited in or pushed away? Comfortable or chaotic and confused?

I know how I want to feel, and I know how I want to make my clients feel. And, I bet, you’re trying to do the same. So keep it simple and push the noise, the agendas and the fear aside and elevate the crisp, the clean and the crystal clear. Sound good? Let’s do it.


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